A California State University (CSU) system unit cap — which limits the number of units a student can take per quarter to 16 — was only going to affect 1 percent of students at Cal Poly, according to campus administrators.
It turns out that number is even smaller.
According to Cal Poly Associate Vice Provost for Systems and Resources Kimi Ikeda, Cal Poly chose to not implement the cap at all this quarter — in direct conflict with a CSU memo.
“Back when it was first established, we said we were not going to implement,” Ikeda said. “Our first priority, first and foremost, is progress to degree.”
The unit cap, which was proposed in March, is a system-wide policy that aims to increase graduation rates by preventing students from enrolling in excess classes, thus freeing up space for others who need those classes to graduate, according to the memo.
At Cal Poly though, the general feeling was that it would hinder, not help, student progress to graduation, Ikeda said. Though a large number of exemptions were approved by the CSU (these included allowances for graduating seniors or majors that require science and language classes or more than 180 units for graduation) these exemptions did not cover a small number of students.
“We looked at it, after we did the exemptions,” Ikeda said. “So looking at the numbers, it was less than 1 percent that would have been impacted, and with our priorities being students’ success and progress to degree, it just went against that.”
Because it was such a small number of students affected, administration chose to not enforce the cap on this 1 percent of students, Ikeda said.
There is some dissent in administration regarding the unit cap’s enforcement, though.
Cal Poly Provost Kathleen Enz Finken said the school actually has enforced the cap, though they have not taken measures to disenroll the approximate 130 students that were not exempt by CSU standards.
“The unit cap has been enforced — this idea that we have not is wrong,” Finken said. “In the end, there was such a small number of students that didn’t have an obvious place they fell in in regards to the exemptions.”
After looking into some of these students’ degree progress, Finken said administration decided to exempt all 130 of these students from the unit cap.
“We found that these few students were essentially falling behind in their degree progress to graduation,” Finken said. “They were taking those extra credits because they were falling behind, so it is good that we have not (held them to the cap).”
Administration created this blanket exemption though, without examining all of these students’ academic positions, Finken said.
“We obviously did not look into all of these 130 students to examine their degree progress,” Finken said. “The number is so small, they didn’t have an impact on campus.”
Finken justified the decision, saying the non-CSU-approved exemption would not go against the original idea of the unit cap because it did not prevent other students from registering for the classes they need.
“The number of students taking additional classes has not impacted getting classes for other students,” Finken said.
Armstrong has yet another understanding of the unit cap, though. According to Armstrong, the cap has been enforced, and a small number of students were in fact impacted.
“The information that I was given was that there were several exemptions because of our polytechnic nature, and vast number of students in polytechnic majors,” Armstrong said. “What was in front of me was that there were many, many exemptions, and they were all approved by the CSU.”
The question of implementation aside, the possible repercussions of such a decision if Cal Poly were to be found going against a CSU policy are unknown.
If the CSU rules that those 130 students should not have been exempted, it could require Cal Poly to drop those students from the classes they are in mid-quarter, Ikeda said. Those students would have to retake the units at a later time, she said.
The possible repercussions are unclear though, because there is no precedent for a university choosing not to follow a policy, according to CSU Public Affairs assistant Liz Chapin.
“It is a system-wide policy,” Chapin said. “So there are no other options.”
Though there is no one person in the CSU who is in charge of ensuring that universities follow the policy, Chapin said it is up to the schools to decide how their unit cap will be enforced.
She also said that all together, the response to the unit cap has been positive.
“I want to stress that this is a positive thing, because it allows more students access to those classes they need to graduate over the long term, because it prevents students from taking units they don’t need,” Chapin said. “There’s been no pushback (from other CSU universities) on this.”